My degree is in Food and Nutrition, Human nutrition that is. When I read research studies the emphasis is on what happens to humans. There is all kind of debate whether animal models are a good surrogate for the human experience. Mostly nutrition science agrees that studies with human subjects are best to determine what is important for humans. Maybe. But we need to look far beyond the human experience to address many of the nutrition and health concerns of our day.
Last Sunday I spoke at the Good Food Fest celebrating 30 years of the Santa Monica’s Farmer’s Market.
As I prepared my talk I looked for a picture of a food chain to insert into my Power point presentation. Many show humans, or at least a carnivore, at the top of the chain. I started to wonder how much these graphics reflect and influence our thinking.
BACTERIA FRONT, CENTER, EVERYWHERE
I chose one of the graphics, copied it and then adulterated the second picture with the missing component. Bacteria.
My graphic was more of a circle of life than a chain. I plopped a picture of bacteria in between “the degraders” (vultures, worms, insects) and soil. Then and cut and pasted a picture of the bacteria at every stage of the chain. I think bacteria is at the top of the food chain, at the beginning, and at every incremental stage in the circle of life.
WHAT ABOUT THE FOOD
On Sunday afternoon I spoke on a panel with Keith Eichenauer, the dairy/deli assistant manager at the Santa Monica Coop and Nate Pietso, owner of Maggie’s Farm. Keith defined organic, cage free, free range, grass fed and other notions of sustainably grown food. Nate discussed how this plays out on a farm and defined what it means to the farmer to grow food sustainably.
I followed. My first quip was something about humans not being the center of the universe. Bacteria probably is. It was the first time I had spoken these words and they resonated. I was struck by how this simple concept had eluded me until that very moment.
I spoke of the nutritional benefits of sustainably, organically grown food. More often than not organically grown food is more nutrient dense. More vitamins, more minerals and especially more antioxidants. In this day of inflammation involved with everything from diabetes to cancer and heart disease, more antioxidants in food is a good thing.
TROUBLING CONSEQUENCES OF CONVENTIONAL FARMING
I spoke of the very troubling consequences of conventional farming. I showed pictures depicting the extent of pesticide contamination and the impact of persistent organic pollutants. Many are known endocrine disruptors and are linked to major metabolic disease.
I discussed the impact of fertilizer run off and dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico come every spring. Excessive nitrogen in the run off drives algae overgrowth. The growth and death of algae sucks the oxygen from the waters. The entire ecosystem suffers, and a “dead zone” is created.
I spoke of antibiotic resistant bacteria from overuse and abuse of antibiotics in animal feed. Seventy percent of antibiotics used in this country are used in animals, mostly in feed to enhance their growth and minimize infection as they live in disease inducing conditions. I spoke of growth hormones used in animals being measured in ground water and the oceans.
REDEFINING THE STUDY OF HUMAN NUTRITION
I basically redefined human nutrition. My guess is that this awareness has been percolating for years. Now it feels obvious. Nutrition encompasses more than the study of nutrients in food. I can no longer be preoccupied by such a limited definition. Preparing for this presentation allowed me to formalize the notion that the entire food chain and all of the challenges of growing food are encompassed in the study of nutrition. They all influence the nutritional status and health of humans.
Today I am more curious than ever about the role of bacteria in nutrition and health. Research is poking at links with health and disease. All kinds of gastrointestinal (GI) tract and metabolic disorders are linked with bacteria. Our bodies host 10 times more bacteria cells than our own human cells. There are estimates of 500-1000 different types of bacteria in our guts and another 500-1000 species on our skin. We live symbiotically with these organisms, whether we pay attention to them or not.
BACTERIA AND RAW MILK
I showed a slide depicting a grass fed cow and the words “raw milk”. In the words of the moderator, the subject struck like a lightning bolt in the room.
Raw milk is a contentious topic, especially on the West side. Recent raids on Rawsome in Venice, CA, and confiscation of raw milk all over the country have raw milk afficcionados up in arms. Statements by the FDA claiming grave danger from raw milk seem out of proportion to documented risks.
My position is simple. We don’t live in the same world as Louis Pasteur. Science should be able to ensure adequate safety standards so that raw milk can be sold and consumed without undue risk to consumers who want their milk and milk products raw. After all, breast milk is “raw” and we don’t find too much trouble with collecting. storing and feeding that to our babies.
Maybe we need to rethink our position on food, period. Our food supply is safe, often too sanitary, and lack of adequate healthy bacteria is linked to many disease states. People now spend money for supplemental bacteria in the form of probiotics. They pay extra to feed bacteria in the form of prebiotics. Maybe we all could benefit from consuming healthy bacteria from carefully chosen raw, fermented and fresh-from-the-farm foods.
What is your take? Is there a need to get enough healthy bacteria from our food supply? Is raw milk the health risk that the FDA claims– or a vital living source of good bacteria?